the basics

Here's some musical terminology that's used all the time, it's the fundamental STUFF that you'll need for any musical chat:

melody

It's just the tune. If it keeps coming back during the piece it's often referred to as the "theme".

harmony

The backing to the melody, or the general word to describe notes playing at the same time.

key

Most pieces will be written in a specific key based on any note e.g. A Major, D flat minor, C minor. It's the tonal centre for the piece. 

chord

Multiple notes played at the same time. 

scale

Every key has its own scale, and this is just all the notes of that particular key. 

major

Sounds happy! :)

minor

Sounds sad :( or mysterious :/

crescendo

Getting louder. When it's loud, it's described as forte.

diminuendo

Getting quieter. When it's quiet, it's described as piano.

TIME SIGNATURE

Tells you how many beats are in a bar.

BAR

Divides up the notes on the page depending on the time signature. 

note

We know you know what a note is, but they're written according to rhythmic values. From slow to fast:
Semibreve - minim - crotchet - quaver - semiquaver

movement

The chunks that pieces can be divided into within one massive piece - often different tempos and moods.

Sharp

Looks like a hashtag, but isn't a hashtag. A sharp note is higher, so F# is a higher pitch than F. 

Flat

Looks like a little b, but isn't a little b. A flat note is lower, so B♭ is lower than B. A note with no sharps/flats (also known as accidentals) is referred to as 'natural'.


compositional FORMS

The structure any given piece takes, depending on length, tempo and instrumentation. 

étude

Étude means "study" and is usually a practice piece that can be performed. 

concerto

An instrumental solo piece, accompanied by an orchestra. 

symphony

A composition for full orchestra, usually with a bunch of movements.

sonata

Instrumental solo piece, can be totally solo but can also be with piano accompaniment. 

suite

A collection of pieces, sometimes chosen from a larger collection and often reworked into different forms. 

OPERA

A dramatic vocal play, with no actual talking - everything is sung! The talky bits are called recitative and the song bits are arias and choruses.

LIEDER

Just means "songs" in German. Usually a solo singer with piano accompaniment. 

ORATORIO

Like an opera but it's super religious.


TEMPO

The speed of a piece, always written for some reason in Italian... Here are the standard tempos from slow to fast:

Largo - Lento - Adagio - Adagietto - Andante - Moderato - Allegretto - Allegro - Vivace - Presto


Instruments

They're grouped according to family (which is what you call a group of the same type of instrument in classical music... isn't that nice?)

Strings

Anything that's got some strings on it, usually played with a bow but can also be plucked (pizzicato). Includes:

Violin, viola, cello, double bass, guitar, lute etc.

woodwind

Any instrument that requires constant puffing to make noises. Can have a reed (a mouthpiece that's just a bit of wood vibrating to make noise) or just a hole you blow into. Includes:

Flute, piccolo, clarinet, oboe, cor anglais, bassoon, recorder etc.

brass

Similar to the above but you genuinely have to blow a raspberry through the mouthpiece to make noises. Includes:

Trumpet, cornet, trombone, french horn, tuba etc. 

percussion

Hit it to make a noise. Includes:

Piano, timpani (big drums), triangle, xylophone, glockenspiel, celeste, marimba etc. 


singers

Whether you're a choir singer or a tip top operatic diva, your voice belongs to one of the following parts:

soprano

The highest female voice. 

mezzo-soprano

Lil bit lower than a soprano, not as low as alto. 

alto

Lowest female voice. A man singing in this vocal range is called a countertenor.

tenor

Highest male voice. Think Pavarotti. 

baritone

Lower than a tenor, not as low as a bass. 

bass

A LOW LOW MAN VOICE. 


Classical music is broadly classified according to historical time periods - obviously there's loads of overlap between them but these are the commonly used terms:

medieval (500–1400)

This is some old old stuff, think evensong and monks etc. 

renaissance (1400–1600)

There were some leaps and bounds in education and GENERAL THOUGHT during this time, and music reflected this. There was a move from simple one line motifs to complex harmony. 

baroque (1600–1750)

Music started being written in ACTUAL KEYS hurrah! Listen out for twiddly bits, basso continuo, and harpsichords. 

classical (1750–1820)

Everything got very neat and ordered during this time and Mozart was the bees' knees.

romantic (c.1780–1910)

Classical music got more expressive and emotional, and musical forms were being stretched and shaped into the classical music we appreciate today. 

20th century (1901–2000)

No dominant style, rules are broken down, people are experimenting all over the shop. 

21st century (2000–)

Like the 20th Century but even more so. JUST DO WHATEVER YOU LIKE WHY DON'T YOU. 

erAs